Kombucha Brewers International aims to set standards for kombucha industry

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

KBI is seeking to raise the allowed ABV level for kombucha from 0.5% to 1.25%. ©iStock/boyarkinamarina
KBI is seeking to raise the allowed ABV level for kombucha from 0.5% to 1.25%. ©iStock/boyarkinamarina

Related tags Beer Alcoholic beverage

Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) is working to connect the relatively small but burgeoning kombucha industry by providing common resources and testing standards. 

Category sales for refrigerated kombucha and fermented beverages grew 34% to $375.4m, according to SPINS data for the year ending Oct. 2, 2016, and are projected to reach $1.8bn by 2020.

KBI is a non-profit trade organization that was formed in 2013, and now has more than 150 members.

Controlling ABV levels

KBI identified the need for a standardized method to test and control alcohol kombucha ABV levels.

Controlling kombucha’s alcohol content became very apparent in 2010 when multiple kombucha brands issued voluntary recalls of their products from Whole Foods stores due to exceeding the ABV level allowed under the Volstead act.

The Volstead Act specifies that any beverage containing more than 0.5% ABV qualifies as an intoxicating liquor.

“Anything above that and the TTB gets involved and then taxes it,”​ KBI founding member and board director, Susan Fink, told BeverageDaily at the Good Food Festival in Chicago last week. 

“What we are trying to say is: ‘Look, this is not an inebriating beverage so why is a healthy beverage being penalized?’”

KBI currently provides its members an unofficial acting guideline for brewing kombucha that gives brewers better parameters than other available testing methods, which are intended for the spirits and craft beer industry.   

“There’s really no appropriate testing method for something with that low of an alcohol content,”​ she said.

KBI fights to change ‘outdated’ law

Kombucha definition

The KBI wants the KOMBUCHA Act to define kombucha as:

“a beverage that is fermented solely by a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast; contains not more than 1.25 percent of alcohol by volume; is sold or offered for sale as kombucha; and is derived from  (i) sugar, malt or malt substitute, tea, or coffee, and (ii) not more than 20 percent of other wholesome ingredients.”

The 0.5% figure is an arbitrary one, according to Fink, and KBI recently introduced a bill called the KOMBUCHA Act to Congress to have the ABV level raised to 1.25%.

The bill received support from two US senators in February this year.

“They recognize that the law, relative to kombucha brewers, is outdated and needs to be changed, and they seized this opportunity to do so. We applaud them for focusing on this effort to help these small businesses,” ​Hannah Crum, president of KBI, said in a statement.

The act also calls for including kombucha makers under the Internal Revenue Code’s definition for “brewer” ​and an exemption to the federal tax imposed on beer for kombucha. 

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